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The Aftermath of War

Ernest Garcia and Jimmy Herrera in December 1970. Ernest says that he hitchhiked from northern Vietnam to southern Vietnam just to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Jimmy, his high school buddy.

My tour in Vietnam started somewhat different. I was assigned to the 3/17th AVR Cavalry AVIATION Bde in Dian.

I was very nervous and scared when I arrived in country, but no amount of training could have prepared me for my first night in Nam.

We arrived early in the morning so we were able to accomplish a lot that 1st day as far as getting settled in! Unfortunately, we had not been issued a weapon yet!  A bit past midnight on that 1st day I was awakened by the sound of explosions and people running for cover! I had never experienced the fear that causes your teeth to rattle uncontrollably, but that night I was to experience many feelings that still haunt me to date.

When I initially arrived, my first reaction was to make friends; this was to change as time progressed. Many of the friends I made became casualties. The loss of close friends in such a violent manner, take a tremendous toll on me. I developed a lot of guilt when I last chose friends and in a way I feel I blamed myself, because they died while I was back in the rear.  I still feel and don’t have control of the Guilt I carried with me!

As time went on, I volunteered to start flying as a door gunner to help replace our losses of Crew Chiefs and Door Gunners. I had built up a lot of anger having lost a lot of my buddies so all I cared about was to get Revenge. I did that very well with my Kill Ratio under my Belt.

God, the sounds and smells of war and dead people I still carry with me![Even now] when I hear a copter fly, wow the sound of the blades are so powerful!

I still move on to my marriages that I feel were lost in part because of my ways that are instilled in me as a hardened man, which made it difficult for my wives to deal with me. But here I go again– going to give it one more shot with Annabel! After 11 years together, I feel it’s time and see how it goes. Hopefully she really does know me by now. However, I feel a pulling within me that I need to pull myself together and handle life with her as man and wife. Guess the fear has, in part, held me back all these years.

Looking back at my life, I can see many victories but also a lot of pain. I have been at the Bottom of the Barrel so many times, but still manage somehow to scratch myself back to the top and pull out of that barrel. It has not been easy for me but I hold on to the thinking, I am a man and must do what I have to. I have also lost my daughter and grandkids and my older brother. But, it is what it is! But I have to live with it! I want them back but don’t know the path on how to recover them and their love!!  I keep thinking of when one door closes, another one opens: but it’s the Hallway I have to go through that’s a Bitch!!!

…The pressures, the nightmares, the guilts I feel to date since Vietnam some how have to go back to the back shelf where they belong!

I don’t feel or want pity in my life just a way I can pull out of all I’m going thru. However Vietnam is my WORST but yet my BEST friend!  I am such a proud Vet but the smell of Death and gut feeling of Hurt haunt me almost every day!

When I look back, I wonder how the hell did I make it out of there! Why isn’t my name on “The Wall” in DC? Having fought in I Corps and III Corps, Laos and Cambodia truly blows me away.  If I could cope with all that Hell, how is it that all those memories have come back to haunt me, I’ll never really know!  Bottom line, I feel as though I have an angel and a demon on each shoulder pulling me into MASS confusion!!

All I know I smell, taste death on both sides–Us and Them! I still envision mangled Bloody Bodies and the Reality of Death before me in my mind that I cannot shake.

As I walk thru the Halls of the VA, I see the pride and pain of so many other Vets, so I cannot help to wonder what they went through.  As I see their medals such as the Purple Hearts or Silver Stars or Bronze Stars as I carry, wow! It takes me back and I compare mental notes and the Hell and Fear I went thru– they also must have gone thru!  All I know and feel is that we are a Brotherhood but a Brotherhood of Emptiness without answers as to how we made it back home when we lost so many GI’s in the process, it just tears at my heart!!

All I know is that I carry a heavy heart for all I carry within me, and I “Hurt”! And I feel that I want to cry it out and need to be held tenderly, but I also feel that that would only be a Temporary Band-Aid, It’s still going to come back and hurt me! How do I win?

SP/5 Ernest Garcia

Avionics Tech/Helicopter Doorgunner served with 1st Aviation Bde 3/17th AIR CAV and 9th Infantry Div. 3/5th AIR CAV to right in 1 Corps 111 Corps CAMBODIA, LAOS

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